Taka Ichise Brings Japanese Horror to Hollywood
Few Japanese producers have influenced American horror film to the same extent as Taka Ichise, the man who brought us The Ring and the forthcoming Dark Water. In Los Angeles to promote The Grudge, his latest Hollywood remake of a Japanese hit that he had produced initially, the regarded producer talked to Paul Fischer about the evolving art of Japanese horror and how and why it has taken off outside of Japan.
Q: You're a great fan of these movies, why - when did you first discover, you know, the horror genre?
Taka: He was not really a die hard horror fan or anything, but when the original novel of The Ring was published in Japan - you know, someone recommended it to him to read it - and after he read it and then that was the beginning of his involvement in the horror genre.
Q: Are you surprised that American audiences embrace The Ring and they will hopefully embrace this?
Taka: Yes, actually he was surprised that The Ring was embraced, that the American audiences liked it this much - he's going to back the way he read the novel of The Ring, he wanted to start explaining it as to why, but when he read the novel, he thought it was very interesting, and he thought it would be great if he could make it in America, to make this film in the US. So he brought - he knew, you know, some producers in the US at that time, so he brought this project and introduced this project to those producers and then all the producers said, you know the story of people who watch a video and die now I've got to sell and so, you know, this was stuff like that. So he thought, oh maybe this kind of you know, story is not going to work. So he was rather surprised, you know, many years later and then now I think, it would be my guess, more and more attitudes have changed and now he became (unclear).
Q: You know for mentoring a lot of directors, so where was Shimizu before you discovered him?
Taka: Your question is how, or why?
Q: I'm asking how is he different before they met and how did he dive into the place he is now?
Taka: He - when from the day one, you know, he knew he is a very talented director - and then during the development process, you know, he - Taka: taught Shimizu, or they worked together and Shimizu learned a lot, you know, how to develop, or how to tell the story - he has, already has a very special talent in creating the fear fiction or the fear moment and then Taka: helped him - to connect those fear moments, to make up the long project, because back then, Shimizu was just a short film. He never made a long project.
Q: How did you decide what to keep from the Japanese version and what to change for American audiences?
Taka: He tried to keep, you know - the American version as close to the original as possible, but the one major change, he would say, would be that in America we have to explore - you may be familiar with Japanese horror films it's very vague, and then sometimes you don't have this illusion at the end. You don't know what's going on until the characters themselves (unclear), but in the Japanese nature, the Japanese people tend to don't mind. They don't mind even though they don't know what's going on in the movie, but in America it's not acceptable. That's period. We have to have certain kinds of rules and have to have certain kind of illusion at the end. So that's the major change he made to this film.
Q: Is that frustrating, when you have to make those kinds of changes?
Taka: It's not frustrating, but during the development process, when he discusses the script with the film producers, they request, we want to explain more - we need more ...
Q: .. exposition.
Taka: .. exposition, so he thinks if you make everything clear, it's not a horror film - it's not horror at all, so he has to kind of keep - you know - still clear but not too clear, so he has to find a balance.
Q: You shot two endings for this, we understand, as well.
That's correct is it?
Q: They shot two endings for this movie. Was the ending that was not used closer, to the Japanese version than - ?
Taka: Yes there were two endings, but they are completely different from the Japanese original ending...
Taka: And he liked the first - the first ending too, but that's kind of too sophisticated, too allegory, you know what I mean? So that they changed to the second ending, and he's happy with that.
Q: What do you think of The Ring Two going in a different direction than the original The Ring?
Taka: He hasn't seen it - or he doesn't know the story of The Ring Two, so he is looking forward to it, how the story is going to develop.
Q: He has nothing to do with that one?
Q: Oh, okay.
Taka: I'm sorry - he was saying that, you know, when he made The Ring Two in Japanese - the Japanese Ring Two, he had to make The Ring Two exactly a year later of The Ring, so he had such a limited time, so that he had put so much effort and time into delivering The Ring Two, so he had a lot to work on it, so he's looking forward to how they come up with The Ring Two in the US. He's really interested - he's looking forward to it.
Q: Do you think that there is a difference culturally in what the Japanese audiences find frightening compared to American audiences, or is it just the story-telling in films?
Taka: I think the times of fear, the fiction, they react to the same way - he thinks.
Q: Can you talk a little about using hair as a device. I seem to notice that is a re-occurring theme in Japanese horror films?
Taka: He cannot really give you the exact reason, but the Japanese horror film is kind of based on the ghost story kind of delivery from hand to hand and then those ghost stories includes all kinds of - you know - the main part of the story has to have something to do with black hair, or long hair, so I think that the Japanese audience react, or appear or feel some easiness in the black hair - towards the black hair, so that's why we use it as a device -
Q: Now we see a lot of remakes for Japanese horror films, either by the original directors. Do you want to see Japanese directors start making original horror films in the United States?
Taka: Yes - he would like to do that - he would like to see a lot - but myself included, there are only a few directors in Japan who can speak English well enough to carry the production in the US, so that could be a big challenge.
Q: How has Japanese horror changed, do you think? And what do you see, how does - is the future of the genre in Japan?
Taka: There used to be a lot more - a lot of horror - Japanese horror movies that had ghosts in it, but for now Taka: is trying to do, you know, trying to create or explore other kinds of horror films, not including ghosts and he is working on the J-horror theatre package and he's going to produce six horror films by six directors, and that's a project he's going to try to do a different kind of horror or fear fiction.
Q: Is there one classic Japanese horror film that you'd like to see re-made in the United States?
Taka: You know the Japanese director who directed Cure, that's been also released on DVD here. He'd like to see that movie to be re-made in the US.
Q: Are you negotiating for that?
Taka: I think somebody else is?
Q: Is the Grudge Curse - is that a creation for the movie, or is there a basis in traditional Japanese legend?
Taka: That's an original Japanese creation.
Q: Is the entity based on the 1981 movie?
Q: Why did you decide to re-make it?
Taka: Yes, when he saw - when he read the original book and the entity was so interesting, so that he would like to -
Q: Are there any ways you can explore it now with special effects that you couldn't do twenty years ago?
Taka: He - personally he is not really interested in using special effects so much in the film and, including the horror films and other films, and then so instead of focussing more on the part of that film, he thinks that the main character, the ( monster is so interesting that he'd like to focus on that - the story behind the main character more.
Q: Will they use CGI for the attack scenes though?
Taka: Yeah, when we watched the movie again the other day and it was like you mentioned that, oh the mechanical body, you can see sometimes that around the chest it looks something like rubber and they just kind of dancing and going up and stuff, so even if to him even though that was, you know, very it was very entertaining in a different way.
Q: What about a Grudge Two, are you looking at doing a Grudge Two here?
Taka: ...the Grudge will do well in the US, so based on that - yeah he's going to have to start working on that quickly, but a sort of Ju-On: Japanese will continue to be made, so that he is working - continuously working - on the Ju-On. You know, now Ju-On Two was completed and it was made, so they're going to work on a Ju-On series, but also the remake.
Q: Will the American Grudge Two, have similarities to the Japanese or would it go on a different direction, as The Ring Two has done?
Q: Going back to the J-horror theatre ...
Taka: .. yes.
Q: .. is there a thematic link to these six films, or is it just a production slate.
Taka: Production slate.
Q: I'd heard there might be an anthology, or are they going to be full films?
Q: What did you think of the performances of the American actors in the film, and particularly Michelle Geller?
Taka: He thinks that has been the very best, the perfect, perfect actor to play this role, and because (unclear) which means she was able to bring the best part of Sarah, so he's very happy with her.
Q: Is there any possibility of a fourth Ring film?
Taka: The author of the novel, you know, asked Taka: not to make it. Unless he changes his mind, he's not going to be happening.
Q: Are you involved in the Dark Water re-make?
Taka: Yeah, he just bought the rights to Pandemonium - but because he was a huge fan of Jennifer Connelly from childhood, he of course had the benefit, to go and visit the set and take a picture.
Q: How did he think it compares to the original. How did he compare it to the original?
Taka: He hasn't seen that - the Dark Water here yet, so he really cannot make a comparison - but Walter Salles he liked very much, so he's looking forward to seeing that.
Q: How do you divide your producing duty to those from Raimi?
Taka: Because it was entirely shot in Japan and they leave everything to Taka:'s hands - so he really appreciate his support because he gave literally freedom to Taka: and protect him as much as possible and he say I'm going to support you and he did from the beginning to end. And then he was really, really, helpful, and it helped.
Q: What kinds of filmmakers influenced you when you were starting out?
Taka: He grew up with, you know, watching all kinds of films, so all kinds of film- makers have of course influenced him into kind of films he makes today, but the one - if he points the one movie that influenced him the most, or made him kind of decide he wants to be a producer, that would be The Poseidon Adventure.
Q: Really. Why?
Taka: Because he wants to see just the ship going up.
Q: Do you have any current protégés, or mentors?
Taka: He's discovered three new young directors who have a lot of potential. He's looking forward to working with them in the future.
Q: Would you want to work completely outside of the horror genre, I mean do you have an interest outside of horror altogether?
Taka: The last year one of Taka's produced films - last year - it's called the Prince of Blade. That's an action related towards an action movie, it had a limited season in the US, but it was released in the US and he just completed a dog film, that was a very heart-warming family -
Q: A dog film? It's just called Dog Film?
Taka: Yes. It's all about my dog.
Q: Okay. Dog Film.
Taka: Everybody so far who has seen it, cried. Oh, yeah for the past ten years the one - the most favourite film of his is Babe.
Q: Babe. I'm glad you said that. What do you think is the biggest difference between the Japanese film industry and the American film industry?
Taka: The average, the budget for the Japanese film is twenty times different - and there is no union whatsoever in Japan, so if, you know, we can make them work 24 hours a day. In America there are union rules, while in Japan usually the producer can have ultimate control over everything.
Q: Everything? Okay.
Taka: Of course, the budget is smaller, much smaller compared to the US. That's why - that's part of the reason, he said.
Q: Right. Would you want to work in America?
Taka: Yes. He's studying English right now. He's preparing for it. It's very difficult.
Q: Thank you. Thank you. Okay, bye.
The Grudge opens on October 22.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.